The Smith's Journal - April 2005

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Malc's 34th Birthday Party

Ready for my guests, my little house got a spring clean and I now have a futon instead of a bed, so more space in my Dream Studio - how silly that I have to sleep there, even though it is the room of my dreams! I try not to get too concerned about the dust from decayed skin particles. I got new duvets and sheets for my new futon, and washed the old ones to use as sound diffusers/absorbers hanging from the beams or to wrap djembes in transit.

A splendid dinner party was enjoyed by Tina, Phil, Bizia, Ruth, Jane, Roberto and Sarra. After a sumptuous feast we even got to record a couple of jam sessions with Phil (fretless acoustic bass), Sarra (Karnatic vocals), Roberto (keyboards), plus percussion and singing bowls. It was just like the olde days when Craig was about, upholding the long tradition of Birthday Party Jam Sessions - an impromptu groove which I luckily got down onto tape :-) It had that remarkable effect of time-transporting me back to the Zone - I realised that I had just pressed record and we had started to play unarranged. I was aware for an instant that this is how it always was...

Ah, the old days!! A warming feeling comes over me :-)

Of course, listening back, it is hardly perfect, and I could not simultaneously be engineer and percussionist (should have soundchecked the mics first), but big fun all the same. Nothing quite like having open mics reverberating at a party, if just for the chink of glasses ;-) And I gave a short birthday speech, relayed to my guests by speakers downstairs :-)

Wizard Powers

My main focus for April (after a largely lame March spent on holiday from work but under the weather and unproductive) is a Big Push on the studio front, after talking to people tonight and realising that although I love my gear to bits, I don't use it or know it intimately enough yet. So I really must try and quit my Internet habit of chasing yet more gear that I don't even need and concentrate on loving what I have (which is already quite special) until I acquire wizard powers.


J.P. rides again?

Conceive idea of Pope John Paul II rising again from the dead on the third day, appearing in St. Peter's Square as 2,000,000 people gathered for his funeral. It would have been the ultimate act from this god-like man, and a big win for the Catholic Church - a possible song idea...

Sleep Deprivation Blues

Meanwhile, I wrote a little ditty to portray my "Sleep Deprivation Blues". Typing up the lyrics, I was happy to find the words to an old song I'd written and lost called "Skye Song", for piano, guitar and mandolin; I hope one day to be able to perform it on that distant Scottish isle.

The Club Of Queer Trades

My morning was then joyously lifted by hearing the first of the wonderful G. K. Chesterton stories in "The Club Of Queer Trades" on Radio 4. I need to design a new career for myself... ;-)


BBC Training film shoot

Another BBC Training Film Shoot at Michael's Folly, although this one was just to train their new directors, and not for broadcast. In the morning the director was Anne-Marie O'Callaghan from RTE in Ireland, and for the afternoon came Abigail Adams from Specialist Factual. After interviewing me about my music, we filmed some entertaining shots around the picturesque woods and gardens, and some drumming in The Strawbale Studio, including a brilliant sequence in Abigail's film where I'm playing a simple clave pattern, and am joined by a magically-edited overdub of a cloned Malc walking into shot to join in on drums, then another on cowbell and finally a shaker. The result was four of me on screen all grooving together! I also once again got to perform sound healing therapy on myself, balancing a large, deeply-vibrating Tibetan singing bowl on my chest :-)

Another bonus came from mentioning to Colin the sound engineer that I was looking to buy a proper Mid & Side stereo microphone for outdoor recording; it turned out that his friend happened to be selling one, and I was welcome to take it out on trial for a month.


Drumclass with Ade

[ Ade Wallace singing and playing his large bass thumb piano in The Strawbale Studio ]Drove with Ruth to rendezvous with Ade, and then collected the AKG Blueline stereo mic to try out for a few weeks from Colin en route to The Strawbale Studio, where we met up with Bizia, Jane, Tina, Helen and Roberto. Ade had ordered me to bring recording gear this time, to capture his songs on tape so that we wouldn't forget them! He proceeded to give us an intense three-hour workout of awesome African music and anecdotes, including his joyous chants Ajomase and Kimbele. Unforgettable :-)


Toque Tambor samba parade in Hitchin

My next recording mission was with Ruth's samba group Toque Tambor, who had been asked to lead a Sikh procession through the streets of Hitchin. I was working on call that day, but thankfully the Angels kept me free from work, enabling me grab my DAT recorder, mic and camera, and meet the procession in the Marketplace.

[ Toque Tambor samba parade in Hitchin marketplace | Toque Tambor samba parade in Hitchin | J.P. leading Toque Tambor | Toque Tambor parading around Hitchin marketplace | Toque Tambor surdo section ]

[ Down on one knee, we all love J.P. :-) | Toque Tambor interrupted by motorcade | Toque Tambor bisected by limousines | Toque Tambor playing rolls to a Rolls | Toque Tambor in a circle ]

> > > More photos of Toque Tambor at Rhythms Of The World...

It seemed such a good opportunity to road test my new mic with some high sound levels, and was nice to be being paid to do so, especially with a police escort ;-) It was great fun to be ushered around our town by the police, who were closing roads and stopping traffic for us. A classic moment came when the bandleader (walking backwards as he signalled to the band) blindly walked straight into the police car which had stopped at the head of the parade!

I managed to record a good hour of this unstoppable drum machine. It sounds so lovely and lively and crisp and bouncy, with fabulous chattering tamborins. There are some great bits with the Prayer Call chanting wailing over the top of samba grooves - really atmospheric like some crazy multicultural Middle Eastern South American town like... Hitchin!

[ Ruth playing repinique with Toque Tambor in Hitchin ] Whenever the pursuing dhol drummers further back in the procession started getting close, I tried to move around to the front to avoid their rhythms colliding with the samba. There are some great breaks where the samba stops and the Indians fill in the gap coincidentally in time! I was trying to get in close for Ruth's solo breaks, but she was usually flanked by surdos. In other bits I tried to accentuate the various sections, so the whole band can be heard from different instrumental perspectives.

Luckily there is no distortion (I was watching the levels closely) but at one point a guy came up and asked me about the recording, thinking I'm from local radio, to which I answered that it's "Not for broadcast" ;-) Oh what power a fluffy mic bestows! Freedom of the City - the police won't touch you!

I had lots of fun moving around the band with the mic for crazy stereo effects, which involves mixing it with a special technique called Mid &Side, so it won't sound quite right on headphones yet - I need to make up an out-of-phase cable (or finally buy one of these :-) for the magic to work as soon as I get that round tuit I've been waiting for. A great bit was when they did a big roll on Sun Street - I spun the mic round on the spot four times, which sounds mad in stereo ;-)

I shall make CDs for the band (*one day*) when I get my music computer... . . .  .  .   .    .    .  Our car stereos are going to rock with this on! Wake that street up! People are gonna think the whole band is coming round the corner... ;-) The photos will be sooner, i.e. this year (...or maybe next year! :-)


Make Poverty History benefit gig in Hitchin

Performed with Ruth at a MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY campaign benefit gig outdoors in Hitchin Market Place. Unfortunately we were both feeling ill, and the weather was pretty poor - after our last gig we wished that people could see us when we're at our best instead of our weakest. Ah well, it's all experience. We played four songs, on which I used four different instruments to accompany Ruth's voice and guitar:

Incidentally, I only just realised that our first gig this year took place exactly three months ago on the 23rd of January, and our next one will be in exactly three months' time on the 23rd of July! We must be locked into some cosmic orbit... we should endeavour to book another date on the 23rd of October :-)


Drumming Liftoff!

(Threatened) rain stopped play today, so The Third Peace In Nature Walk was postponed again. Instead we went to our secret base at Michael's Folly for our drumming session, and beforehand walked around Dennis and Yasmin's beautiful Bluebell Woods. The session was attended by Bizia, Tina, and Jane, with Roberto shaking at the beginning. Luckily some new folk have discovered our website and so we'll soon be welcoming some new faces. In fact, things rhythmic are progressing well, as we have saved nearly enough money to buy a set of dun duns. On a roll afterwards I contacted Justine Hart from Winterdrum and arranged to check out her class in Wendover on Wednesday.


Vitae Drum Circle dancing man logo by Jed Hoile [74K JPEG]Vitae Drum Circle in Wendover

Read Chapter 2 of Deepak Chopra's Perfect Health and filled in the Ayurveda questionnaire. My scores were 94 Pitta, 85 Kapha, 81 Vata.

Ianji and I and I completed a successful advance guard reconnaissance mission along The Chilterns to The West, as far out as Wendover, to attend the Vitae Drum Circle held by Justine from Winterdrum. It is held most Wednesdays in a lovely converted church, with about fifteen people who soon got this timber roofed building really throbbing. The first ninety minutes was for beginners, some of whom left later on leaving ten of us to ratchet up the proceedings a bit. I got to join Jan on dun duns (she played three, I had two) which was great fun, although I have yet to master the technique of complex offbeat basslines with one hand and bell patterns with the other. (My homework :-)

In the interval, Justine and Jan showed us some fantastic dances they've been learning. Wow! This reminded me of the good old days with Marta and Chantelle and Ana and Bizia and Helen and Louise and Ruth and sunshine and why don't we do this any more? Justine is a truly GREAT DANCER, as well as an excellent drummer with a serious repertoire. I seriously recommend this class to anyone wishing to play dun duns and of course the djembe teaching is tops too. [UPDATE: I now attend the Tuesday sessions in High Wycombe too.]

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Licence © The right to copy is left with the user copyleft Malcolm Smith 2005-05-09 - last updated 2007-05-16